TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

MAMBILA

The 25,000 Mambila, farmers and stockbreeders, occupy the region bordering Cameroon and Nigeria, to the north of Grassland. Land, every family’s property, is distributed by the group’s chief. Labor is divided between men and women, and children begin to work at the age of twelve. A society of mutual assistance, the kurum, participates in clearing land, harvesting, and building houses and facilitates social contacts during celebrations and dances. The men are in charge of weaving cotton, metal- and woodworking, and braiding fiber. Merchants and blacksmiths are separated from the rest of the community. The trade is passed from father to son. They practice the ancestor cult and agrarian rites. The Mambila only worshipped family ancestors. According to their beliefs, at one’s death the ancestors take away the soul of the deceased during the night. The chiefs of the lineage were buried in granaries, for they are representative of prosperity and life, just as the grains of millet. Mambila art centers upon an association called suaga. It is primarily concerned with justice and supernatural cleansing within the community. The Mambila produced a considerable number of figures that are characterized by a heart-shaped face; red and white pigments are often applied later. Mambila figures embody ancestors who, according to their beliefs, are responsible for the clan's wealth. The figures appear with bent legs and typical enlarged head outlined in wooden pegs. Mambila also make highly stylized animal masks. Masks and statues were kept hidden from the eyes of women in a net hung on the inside of a hut that was on stilts; it was guarded by the head of the family. The front wall of the hut was decorated with two figures, male on the right and female on the left, crowned by a rainbow and framed by the sun and the moon. Dancers celebrating the beginning and end of the agricultural cycle are led by a tribesman wearing a cephalomorphic helmet mask. He is often followed by a retinue of assistants wearing secondary masks in the shape or stylized animal heads, usually dog’s or cow’s. In general, women are excluded from these masquerades, both as actors and as spectators. Women dressed in rags and vegetation present their own version of the masquerade at a different time and place.

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